Wyoming Bombers! Old Bachelor Sage Grouse

I have a goal to hunt birds in all 50 states and 20 countries in the next 25 years. People ask me and I always have to count back – I’ve done 9 states so far.  I spend most of September through February hunting doves and ducks in Texas. We are truly fortunate to have so many varied species and locations to hunt in Texas.  Each year I select a couple states to hunt during my big annual adventure.  I start planning those hunts in January and they are typically scheduled during September of October of each year.  Last year, I hunted in Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. I had hunted in Wyoming the year before but didn’t know about Sage Grouse or Bombers and when I did find out about them, discovered that I was just a few days late for their very short season. I discovered sage grouse because I kicked on up one day while hunting for Huns in Wyoming. Damn!  It liked to give me a heart attack!  Once I figured out what it was, I was primed to make a return visit and get one.

BIG Sage Country

Grey and Green Wyoming Sage Grouse Habitat
Wyoming Sage Grouse Habitat

Wyoming bird hunting country is HUGE!  The vistas seem endless.  Sage Grouse habitat is exactly what you’d expect – sage brush.  I’m always fascinated by the Wyoming sage brush and very old each plant appears.  It’s so dry and windy out there that it’s a wonder those plants can grow at all.  The guide told me stories about people driving across the sage brush and being able to see the tracks made by the vehicle for many years afterward. This is walking country and there is plenty of it.  I also like all of the hidden gullies and washes.  What looks to be smooth for as far as you can see actually has numerous gullies, washes and canyons that you can only see when you come up on them.  If you hunt this, plan on walking 10-15 miles.  It’s not a hard walk but it’s not easy either.   

Sage Grouse Poop

Green and White Sage Grouse Scat
Sage Grouse Scat

Since Wyoming is very large and there aren’t many sage grouse left, they can be very challenging to find.  The guides tend to know the most likely habitat but in the end, actually finding them depends on your ability to find Sage Grouse poop.  Yup, sort of likehunting bears in the woods.  When you do find it, the fresher the better!  Fresher is green.  Older is white. Chances are, they won’t be too far from where they like to hang out and poop.

 

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Sage Grouse Eggs!

White Sage Grouse Eggs
Sage Grouse Eggs

Given the sheer size of the Wyoming country, it is highly unlikely that you’ll find a sage grouse nest.  That said, they do tend to lay eggs where they poop and we were fortunate to find an old nest.  Since I was primarily hunting for a Bomber – an older bachelor Sage Grouse – I wasn’t very interested in hunting the nesting area.  Afterall, the boys don’t hang around very long after the “work” is done.

 

Sage Grouse Jr.

Medium Grey and Tan Wyoming Sage Grouse
Medium Wyoming Sage Grouse

We did manage to find a couple sage grouse the first day.  Since I hadn’t hunted sage grouse before, I didn’t know how to size them and know which was a younger grouse versus an older grouse.  So, like any good hunter, I put one on the ground to see.  I mostly hunt doves, quail and ducks and since almost any sage grouse is bigger than any of those, he looked big.  It wasn’t until I got back to the lodge that I was informed that I didn’t have a bomber but did have a respectable sage grouse.  I wanted bombers though so we headed to a different place the next day – Bomber Heaven.

 

We’re having Fish for Lunch!

Clear Blue Brook Trout Fishing Hole
Brook Trout Fishing Hole

My guide is also a fly fishing guide and just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pull some brook trout out of this little hole.  I’ve avoided fly fishing because I know I’d do that like I do hunting and then nothing would ever get done at home.  When he asked if I minded if he fished a bit, I said “Sure, go ahead!”  Damned if he didn’t proceed to pull about a dozen little brook trout out of that hole – some were tiny but some were big enough to take home.  It was a hoot watching him.  Notice that he’s sitting back far enough from the pond that the fish can’t see him.  They are wily little buggers!  He told me a story of a Johnny Brook Trout – just like Johnny Appleseed – who goes into the mountains each summer with panniers loaded with brook trout fingerlings to stock the upper creeks.  He also mentioned that some people think brookies are “invasive” (like our European Collared Doves) and don’t appreciate that this guy is stocking them.  Meh.

 

Wyoming Trifecta

Wyoming Trifecta of Antelope, Brook Trout and Sage Grouse
Wyoming Trifecta

On the way back to the lodge the first day, the guide asked me if I minded if he shot an antelope.  The season had opened that day and he had two tags.  “Sure!” I said and he proceeded to put one on the ground.  Along with the two sage grouse and six brook trout, we had a Wyoming Trifecta!

 

Windy Enough to Flap My Ears

Windy Orange and White Wyoming Bird Dog
Windy Wyoming Bird Dog

Wyoming is Windy!  And it also has lots of big damn rocks.  The second day was beautiful and we were right in the middle of Bomber Country but the wind was a challenge.  It was blowing about 25 MPH and when Jill took a rest for a minute, I noticed that she was enjoying the cool breeze and a little ear flapping.  Whatever it takes to keep the dogs happy – without them – no birds!

 

A Bomber!

Grey and Tan Bomber Wyoming Sage Grouse
Bomber Wyoming Sage Grouse

Yeah, this one is substantially bigger than the ones from yesterday!  The old bombers are smart and wary.  We found them several times before we ever got within shooting range.  Jill is used to hunting smaller upland brids and getting within a few yards of a bird.  These bad boys hit the air if we got within 30 yards!  So, we slowed down, marked them when the busted and kept after them.  This is as close to stalk hunting as I’ve ever come with birds.  This bad boy jumped up at about 40 yards and headed downwind in a 25 MPH wind really fast.  I was shooting a 20ga with Full and IMod and hit him twice.  I saw him hunch when each shot hit him.  Nevertheless, he still sailed over 100 yards before he went down.  Thankfully, Jill is as good at finding dead birds as she is live ones!

 

A Cold Nasty Wyoming Hunt

White and Brown Cold Wyoming Hunt
Cold Wyoming Hunt

My third day in Wyoming hunting sage grouse started off very cold and wet.  So much so that most of the dirt roads were impassable – even in four wheel drive.  It was beautiful and I’ll always remember the stark, beautiful scenery of Wyoming but Damn!  This day was cold and nasty!  But, we’re here to hunt so hunt we shall!

 

Pheasants Back at the Ranch

Triple Orange, Brown and White Bird Dog Point
Triple Bird Dog Point

Since we weren’t having any luck out in the field, we went back to the lodge to help solve a problem – more on that in a minute.  Jason, the outfitter, has a preserve license for the area around the lodge for afternoon walk up hunts.  It’s easy country and mostly alfalfa and river bottoms so we put down all the dogs we had.  Jill doesn’t normally hunt with other dogs and doesn’t really know how to honor – or so I thought.  I’m not sure if she’s honoring another point or just pointing herself but I’d like to think it’s an honor.  It was fun to work a bunch of dogs at the same time – a little raucous at times but fun.

 

The Problem – Blinder Pheasants

Purple and Green Blinder Pheasants
Blinder Pheasants

OK, here’s the problem we were given to solve. Pen raised pheasants will peck each other to death in captivity.  So, they are given blinders to prevent this.  Usually, the blinders are removed prior to releasing them into the field to be hunted.  Jason had a new guy (FNG) who wasn’t entirely clear on this.  He hunted with us (or helped clean up the mess) and swore that he did notice the peculiarty but only did as he was instructed – put out the pheasants.  Well, we were given the job of finding those blindered birds.  We managed to turn into a form of Jackpot by giving scores to the different colors.  Purple was low, green was medium and orange was high.  It didn’t matter to me, I just liek shooting birds – no matter what the points are.  The FNG was a great sport and we ribbed him mercilessly while we hunted the blindered pheasants.  I think something like this can only happen in Wyoming.

 

Cold Wet Bird Hunting Dog

Cold Orange and White Bird Hunting Dog wrapped in Camo Parka
Cold Bird Hunting Dog

Jill is a super trooper and never fails to answer the call when it’s time to hunt.  Some hunts are more enjoyable than others.  This was a cold, wet, tough day and she was worn out by mid afternoon.  I put her in the truck and tossed my coat over her to help her warm up.  When I get in the truck a few minutes later, she had managed towrap the coat around her and even get the hood on properly.  I’m not sure what that looks means but I can guess that it’s nothing good.  I wouldn’t dream of hunting without her.

 

Wyoming Bombers and Blinder Pheasants – What More Could You Ask For?

I hunted sage grouse and was outfitted by Grey Reef Anglers out of Casper Wyoming.  Grey Reef is an Orvis recommended outfitter and Jason is an excellent outfitter, host and guide. Jason’s wife Judy makes sure everything is clean, comfortable and delicious.  I highly recommend him and his crew. I had hunted Wyoming the previous year for Huns and Chukars – both very worthy prey.  But, once I saw a bomber I knew I needed to come back. I’ve hunted Blue Grouse, Huns, Chukars, Pheasants and Sage Grouse in Wyoming.  If there weren’t another 41 states waiting for me, I’d go back in a heartbeat!

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